Not all 2600 sports games sucked.
In the early days of console gaming (or arcade gaming for that matter) players were required to bring along their imaginations. Such was the excitement of this new form of entertainment they were more than happy to do so. Give a guy a triangle that shoots dots at some floating blobs and instantly he's piloting his spaceship through an asteroid field. Obviously this couldn't last forever and 2600 designers (for the most part) rose to the challenge. A ten year old today might laugh at the simplicity of a game like Pitfall yet, for its time, the game was a state-of-the-art masterpiece.
One genre, however, that 2600 designers never got a good grip on was sports games. The system's blocky graphics and difficulty in making a decent (or even recognizable) human form usually allowed only a minimalistic experience at best. A baseball game on the 2600 was certainly playable, but I doubt many users were mentally knocking the dirt off their spikes when stepping into the batter's box.
One of the exceptions to this rule was Skiing by the (then) rebel designers at Activision. The game was an exercise in clever simplicity. With a white screen representing a snow covered mountain and a few trees whizzing by, you actually felt transported to an alpine slope and would mentally brush the powder off your shoulders at the end of a good run. Plus the skier, although still blocky, was also easily recognizable in its various poses. Skiing was a very Zen-like game. There was nothing to blow up or destroy and the only sounds you heard were the gentle “chh” as you dug in your ski edges for a turn and a “swoosh” as you cleared a gate.
The game was divided into two sections: slalom and downhill. The downhill section was somewhat disappointing as there was no marked off route to travel. It was more akin to being dropped off on top of a mountain by a helicopter and having to find your way to the base. You usually just skied until you crashed into the next tree line then got up a skied to the next tree line etc. On the other hand you could also just slowly ski down the slope and admire the scenery in a sort of video gamer’s version of a relaxing day spa.
The slalom runs were where Skiing shined. In fact, they felt more like Olympic downhill runs since, with a good line, you could often clear several gates in a row without turning. The game itself revolved around slalom run three. If you could complete this run in less than 28.2 seconds you could take a picture of your TV screen, mail it in to Activision and they would send you a Skiing patch. My friends and I spent a lot of quiet nights holed up in a dark room taking turns trying to shave one or two tenths (sometimes hundredths) of a second off our times.
You could increase the difficulty by adding trees near the gates (kind of stupid) and/or making you have to jump the moguls (kind of fun). The game also had one of the more famous video game TV commercials made for it…
Skiing did get repetitive (what 2600 game didn’t?) but it was a standout cartridge both in the sports genre and the 2600 library in general. I give it four stars. So give it a try. Once you get the hang of it head over to slalom run three and try to stop yourself from playing over and over (and over and over) again. My friends and I called gate four the shave-and-a-haircut. See if you can figure out why. Heh, heh.